'I am a human being, I was surely nervous, I am competing against a lot of people, but even when I played cricket there is not a single match where I was not nervous.'
'Lots of mothers, lots of sisters are so sure that no matter what happens, Sree will stand by them.'
'I will go to any length to help people.'
'If it is important to save somebody I will save him even if I have to die.'
The Bharatiya Janata Party pulled a political rabbit out of the box when it decided to nominate cricketer Shantakumaran Sreesanth from Thiruvananthapuram for the assembly elections in Kerala.
With a couple of days left for campaigning to end, candidates rush to cover all bases, and Sreesanth keeps a punishing schedule.
It was in the midst of this, during a lunch break, that the tearaway fast bowler spoke to Rediff.com's A Ganesh Nadar and Saisuresh Sivaswamy.
"I am sure I will make a great politician because I love to help people," the cricketer who was accused in the Indian Premier League 2013 spot-fixing case, in which the charges against him and two other cricketers were dropped in July 2015, says in the course of a 30-minute interview.
Sreesanth, you are a sportsman, how will you manage in the world of politics, which is a different ball game altogether and calls for a different skill set?
See, I was not born a cricketer to start with, so I had to really work hard, I had to really train hard, it took lots of practice and lots of matches to get there.
Similarly I have started my political career, but I used to know about politics from my dad who was a very strong Communist, a LDF (Left Democratic Front) guy, but since (Prime Minister Narendra) Modiji's rule even a Communist in my house started thinking the BJP because of the progress which other states were making.
It was not just promises that Modiji was making, but making an effect.
I am learning from him, he is the guru, I am learning from all the leaders under him as well. I am very fortunate to have state leaders like Kummanam (Rajasekaran, Kerala BJP president) who is like a very normal guy, he is our chief ministerial candidate.
Most of the BJP leaders in Kerala are so simple and humble, very approachable, you don't need a VVIP to get you an appointment, even a normal person can... A lot of things like that.
So for me turning from cricket to politics was not that difficult, especially with the PM's office and Amit Shahji, everybody supporting me wholeheartedly, to give an opportunity to serve the people who stood by me in my hardest times.
It is an opportunity for me, so I'm learning every single day, I am fighting it out, and learning from the best of the best.
So is it ta-ta, bye-bye to cricket, then?
Yes, for the time being there is no cricket, I am not even thinking about the game, because it is very important that I give my....
Cricket is a personal thing, even movies is a personal thing, it is all entertainment. But politics is not entertainment, in politics if you are a genuine politician not going after everybody and pinpointing, you are pinpointing the difference so the people realise they were wrong.
In Kerala most of them are educated, so we don't need to pinpoint. We had a party which is giving the best to the people and doing. So for me, when given the opportunity... I don't have the time to think about the game, I don't have the time to...
In fact I have not even had a proper gym session for the last two months since I have joined, you know, I have not had a strength session, we don't get time because I am starting my day around 5.30, 6 in the morning, we go on till 1, 1.30, because I started late, and I get a break now for lunch. Because we have started the rally now, otherwise even lunch will be in someone's house and it goes on till 12 in the night.
So, it is a completely different field and you don't have time. And once you become an MLA it will be much bigger because you need to solve issues with a lot of effort and just because you are an MLA or an MP you can't just help people straightaway, you need to have a proper organisation.
I am very fortunate that I have people, the Centre is ruled by the BJP, so it will surely help and the Centre has promised all the help to Kerala.
Kerala has always alternated between the Congress and the Communists. Where does the BJP stand here, if at all?
Right now it will be the number one party for sure because like Bengaluru, which hardly had any seats and then suddenly the BJP came there so there are lots of opportunities here, people are talking of 16, 19 seats, to start with it was one seat, then it became 2, then 7, then 16, so literally throughout the campaign I could see that there's a lot of difference where people are starting to believe.
Earlier, a lot of people who were with BJP would vote for the LDF or the UDF. Now they have belief in the BJP and I am sure with the progress which the BJP is making in Kerala, plus given the corruption on the part of both the LDF and UDF, they are facing two sides of the same coin.
People do realise that in Bengal they (the Congress and CPI-M) are best friends, and they come here and talk crap about each other. That ideology itself has given us the number one priority here, the people who believed in the LDF and UDF are believing now that they are only making money, they are just family-based organisations.
You go to Trivandrum, see the city, when the LDF was ruling, all they did was make buildings, they are against development. And the UDF, you might have seen the city, you might have come before.
I have played under-19 or under-16 in the Trivandrum medical college in 1996. I went there after the Kollam firecracker incident and literally there is no difference!
One good thing in Trivandrum is you won't lose your way even if you come after 50 years, because every road, every gully looks the same except a few buildings. Otherwise, everything is the same.
So from the British time to now, what is the change? The rich have become richer and richer and richer, and the poor is gone. The poorest of them all, I mean..
So there is so much opportunity, if somebody starts thinking normally that my child should have a great future, my children should not go abroad, but make this city great, if you are a true believer, true citizen of India. I would love to have my baby get the best education here, and the best job here and settle down here and develop this city rather than some other city in the world.
So that is the goal and that is the message that Modiji is trying, with Make In India, StartUp India, StandUp India, all that is because we want to make India a better place.
So I am very confident that we are not the third party, we are the first party in Kerala in this election and it's about people starting to believe that we can deliver and all they have to do is Google and read about BJP news, not in the Kerala newspapers because they don't say anything about us, they are very biased towards other parties. I am saying this openly.
I am sure we are the number one party here and it's just the matter of breaking that.. one MLA, two MLAs turns into.. that's how parties are made, we have to hang in there and we have to be persistent, we have the capacity and we will be persistent.
Were you nervous initially, when you started out on your campaign?
Yes! I am a human being, I was surely nervous, I am competing against a lot of people, but even when I played cricket there is not a single match where I was not nervous.
It's a human thing, it's normal. I would be lying to myself if I said I was not nervous. I was, but not now, not anymore, because once I saw the city, saw the people's love and care, when you go for campaigning, when you enter a house, even an LDF house, the mother's love towards me, sister's love towards me and the way they care for you.. You know from the eyes.
I think at the age of 33 I have seen enough, more than any other 33 year old and god has been extremely kind to me, I can proudly say that I have got enough experience as a man in his 50s or maybe not even his lifetime.
I went from success to failure, there was a shift where I always made a comeback, and I was always persistent. That's the same thing I want to do now.
So is this your comeback after your setbacks in cricket?
Yes, I want to make sure there is no South Indian/North Indian stuff happening, no Malayali thing happening, there is no inferior/superior thing happening.
I want to work for the people, you have to change that mindset, it's about slow progress, it's a slow process as well, but it will happen. It will only happen with the BJP coming to power.
So what are the voters telling you?
Complaints. The first thing they say is, we are so happy you have taken up this task at the age of 33, you have given your personal life to help us. That is one big point they keep saying to me.
And the other thing, even in your hardest times we were all praying for you, we will stand by you because we believe in you, you never gave up for two-and-a-half years when the case happened.
I could have run away to any other country, could have just come back for the case, or stayed in some other city, been happy doing something or the other, but I kept myself, me and my family went through the hard times, and lots of mothers appreciate that, lots of sisters appreciate that, they are so sure that no matter what happens, Sree will stand by them.
And that is exactly the promise I want to make to them, no matter what happens I will be standing not by them, but in front of them and facing it before them.
And what exactly are you promising the voters, that you will do for them?
My first and foremost thing will be, surely, keeping the city clean.
Swachch Bharat should be the first thing because it is very, very easy. We have been talking about it in the party as well, so once I become an MLA the first and foremost thing will be to take the help of the central government and make some huge changes in cleaning the city, for sure.
And having educational classes for not just the poor people but the richest as well because I have seen the costliest of cars throwing stuff outside. That can be stopped. It is very easy, it is simple.
MLAs here talk of development. If you see here, there are so many posters, they are so scared of the BJP in the last one week. Because we are growing and growing.
The so-called LDF and UDF, they know on May 16, people will vote for the BJP. They have kept huge hoardings of what they have done and what they don't understand is that everything is done with central government funds, not his fund.
If the central government says no, you don't get anything. And that is who? The BJP. Thanks to them.
What is the point of putting up hoardings of the past? It is the future, the present. If you look at the city, throughout, it is all wastage. You feel irritated because what are they doing with so much of money.
Do you think you will make a good politician?
I am sure I will make a great politician because I love to help people, in a genuine way. And I have been doing that for a very long time.
Yes, you need the experience of experienced people. And that will help me because I am in the (Nair) Seva Sangam. We have been doing seva without expecting anything. We have a great team, and I am so confident about them.
A good captain is great only if he has a great team. So I am very confident that I will be the one of the greatest captains they have seen.
Sports has really helped me, sports has made me think that nothing is impossible. You just got to be persistent, you got to be focused enough to achieve and forget everything else.
And I am sure I will be the best politician of Kerala, I am very confident of that.
Sreesanth, you are a rather unusual candidate compared to your peers. Unlike them, you are not just a local, you also have a national image.
So do you have national ambitions in politics or will you confine yourself to Kerala?
I would love to be an MP, represent Kerala, Malayalis. To be very honest, I want to win this election and see how I am responding, how I am growing, I need to grow.
I need to play under-19, club cricket, divisional, state cricket, then I have to play Duleep Trophy and then for India. So I start slowly.
Obviously my biggest dream will be helping a lot of people and making the biggest change in Kerala and to leave a legacy, you know. That's what I wanted to do in cricket and god's been extremely kind, I was fortunate enough to win two World Cups, which no Malayali has done.
Apparently, I don't know if even you guys know, I am the only fast bowler in the world (as part of the team) who has won both the T20 World Cup and the 50-over World Cup. It's apparently a record. And I have clocked the fastest ball bowled by an Indian.
It's nice to be humble and simple, but sometimes people tend to forget what you've done. I have got the best figures bowled by an Indian fast bowler in India, which is 6 for 55 in Indore, a flat track.
And apparently, I've got 16 comebacks which many cricketers have not done except Jimmy (Mohinder) Amarnath sir.
Are you eyeing something similar in cricket as well?
I want to make sure youngsters start believing in themselves, youngsters start having faith in my state, my city, that if he stays in the city and helps the city grow they will grow. That's the message I want to give.
I am a proper local, I am a Malayali, when I took that catch (in the first T20 World Cup final against Pakistan) they didn't say I was from Kochi or Trivandrum or Calicut. They said in every corner of the world there's a Malayali, and that's what Misbah(-ul Haq) forgot.
I want to tell the people who call me an outsider should be thrown out first because that's the guy who is separating people. I am a Malayali, a proud Malayali and I will do anything and everything for this city because it comes in Kerala, India.
It will be my privilege to help every individual in the best way I can. And I will do it.
The Kerala voter is very aware and educated. Do you think they will vote for a cricketer?
They will vote for a guy who has given his very, very, best, a guy who has faced the hardest possible times and never given up. And stood by what he believes in and the faith in the Indian judiciary.
Plus, they will vote for a guy who is representing a party which is showing results and they will vote for the PM who is very simple and a humble guy.
More than a cricketer, I am so fortunate that I am representing the BJP and right now the way I look at it is, even if I am not a politician, I will vote for the BJP.
A person who wants to see a difference in Kerala, where they have been doing left-right, left-right in Kerala, standing at the same spot and doing a march past and not going anywhere, as Modiji said.
He said, you are my kids, you are my family, I need to serve you. If you don't give us an opportunity I will give you an opportunity. But how did they do it? They gave Suresh Gopi and Rajiv sir a Rajya Sabha nomination.
Now it is the people's turn to give back to Modiji and give him some MLAs so that the BJP can come here and help people. Otherwise you know what happens, everything is getting stuck.
There's a percentage guy here, he takes percentages in between, that system has to go.
But one thing is sure, once they give us a five year chance they will never look at another party after that.
I used to be least interested in the front page of a newspaper, which I realise is the most important thing. As a sportsperson I would read only the sports pages, that too only cricket.
So what was the turning point that took you from the sports pages to the front page?
My dad. From a strong Communist guy to change, for him to change his mind and start seeing Modiji's speeches, reading about Modiji, buying books about him, that made me think, my god, that's a huge change.
My brother, who used to be Congress-Communist, he started talking about the BJP.
So, obviously as a human being you start thinking 'Oh wow man, but even in my wildest dreams I never thought I would join politics.' But when my father-in-law told me in 2013, 'Why don't you contest from Madhya Pradesh as an MP?' I said, 'No, let me finish the case, let me come clean, then I will think about it.' I was never interested.
But when I came (clean), when the election was happening, I was advised and requested, so I said I will be more than happy to contest because once I get into power I am very sure I don't want any individual, any son, any daughter, any brother, any father to go through what me and my family went through.
Even a guy who won two World Cups and been a part of what I just said, can go through something and nobody can come through to help you, I can imagine a normal guy people wouldn't even care if he or she is dead.
So I want to be there and help people start believing that no, this guy is there with me. Anything happens in the house this guy is there with me. Anything in the city, let me call him. I can go to his house and just meet him. That's the kind of feeling I want to give so that the city grows big.
I don't want to talk like a politician because somebody apparently told me you are not a politician, I don't know what he meant by that. I don't want to be the corrupt politician. I want to be the guy who's here to help because the amount of help I used to do in lakhs, I used to do a lot of things for people with whatever I can, it will be done with the help of the State and I will be more than happy to give it to them. And I will.
What made you take the leap from sportsman to politician -- leave aside the Congress or BJP etc?
I don't know whether you've noticed, but whatever humble experience I've got one thing I realised, even in politics you've got to do anything to help people.
I will go to any length to help people. If it is important to save somebody I will save him even if I have to die. That's the way I am looking at it.
Even in cricket I haven't ever bothered if I was getting killed by a cricket ball. I've faced the best fast bowlers, with a normal helmet. I never thought what if I die, I was more than ready even in 43 degree Celsius, 90, 95 per cent humidity I was more than happy to just go out, run in and bowl fast. I would've enjoyed dying there.
Same thing in politics, I will be aggressive, I will go all out, I will go to any length to help people, and if that's aggressive yes, I will be aggressive.
For me it is, I don't know, humanity yaar, you've got to help people if you can. If you have 10 bucks and if somebody needs 5 bucks you should more than ready to give it. That's what I believe.
Social worker, but with the help of the government. Social work I have been doing from 2002 or 03.
If you lose, what is your Plan B?
I am not even thinking of it. I am sure I will win. I can only say once I win, on the 19th, I will make the announcements on what I will do to this city.
Do you still follow cricket, IPL?
Honestly, no time. The best part is I don't even read the sports pages anymore. Apparently, a politician has to read every page.
I do get the scores and I came to know of Virat Kohli's two centuries, I would have loved to watch the highlights.
But even when I am travelling it is actually about the problems, they keep giving me letters, a lot of people have started in believing in and making me an MLA already because I keep getting the complaints, chetta, mone (brother, son), help me from the 19th, I know you can't help us now.
So a lot of people have stared believing that Sreesanth is going to help us, so we want to be with him. That's why I said we are not the third party, we are the first party.
Have any of your cricketer friends called you after you took the political plunge? Offered to join your campaign?
No, not really. Most of them are obviously not political guys.
No messages wishing you best, etc, either?
No, not really. I am just waiting for the 19th. I am sure.. Congratulations come after you win.
Even with the case a lot of people forgot my number and suddenly when they meet you at the airport they say, 'Oh man, I tried you so many times.' All I say is, 'Maybe my phone was engaged, don't worry, have a great life.'
You learn from that, and that's it. Maybe they tried and I must have been busy. Most of them are celebrities, they don't try twice.
I am busy with helping people and if they don't get in touch with me, finding it difficult to keep in touch with me it's brilliant because that means I am very busy helping people.